Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Three Reasons "I, Robot" is good for modern readers

This picture is entirely unrelated.
During class introductions I said I liked Fantasy/Sci-Fi, only to be accosted by my classmates for having never read any Asimov.  I was jokingly tasked with reading I, Robot and bringing in a book report by the next class.  So I did.1  My report, which I’m putting up here, highlights three2 reasons I think I, Robot would be a good read for modern readers.

Firstly, Humor.  There is a conception in much of modern science fiction of grit.  This is demonstrated primarily in the videogame genre, which features protagonists with such broad shoulders and stubbly faces that they make Jake Gittes look soft-boiled.  The protagonists of I, Robot are no such macho-men, instead they are primarily scientists and technicians who given an impression of early baldness and pocket-protectors.  Geeks.

Donovan and Powell, in their other job arranging
spring break activities for College Kids.
But they’re fun, loveable geeks.  To me, the muscle gods of Gears of War are just as Alien as the Locust they fight.3 But the protagonists, especially Powell and Donovan, who are ALWAYS the ones that get the short end of the stick as far as Malfunctioning Robot Shenanigans go, and their world-weary attitudes towards these Shenanigans make them delightfully relatable, both to the kid whose user mod for League of Legends won’t render right to the office worker who can’t get Microsoft Excel to behave.

Secondly, right now people love a Strong Female CharacterTM, but more even than that they love arguing over whether or not someone qualifies as a Strong Female CharacterTM.  Susan Calvin, the other primary protagonist for most of the book and arguably the most prominent character, is clever, quick-witted, and doesn’t rely on men to get things done, but at the same time the only chapter which has her showcasing strong emotions has her tearful over lost love. 

I am by no means a Gender Studies expert4 , and so I won’t comment on whether Susan Calvin is or is not a good feminist role model.  Whatever else she is, she is an extremely compelling character, and watching her cleverly deduce the problems with robots, especially ahead of the men in her field, is highly satisfying.  The book reads just as much like mystery as it does Sci-Fi.5 

However, a third issue I find prescient is the issue of Religion.  In Chapter 3, “Cutie”6, a Robot who is meant to be running a power converter, goes a bit rogue, developing a Cult of the Master and teaching other Robots to join in as well.  This leads to trouble for, of course, Powell and Donovan. 
To be fair, I too would assume that Powell and Donovan couldn't be my
makers due to their inferior intelligence.

The Clerical Fiction is of course delightful, but what I find interesting is that in the text you could interpret either side as being Theist/Nontheist in the debate, which resembles many that go on between Theists and Nontheists today.  Cutie appears to be the “Religious” one, given that he is “The Prophet of the Master”, he also resembles a Militant Atheist7  in his utter refusal to accept anything on faith, such as the existence of Earth.  I think in the end, the story is more of a caution against radical religiosity than any particular side of Theist/Nontheist view.

I, Robot is a satisfying read, start to finish, and definitely worth checking out.  For those not into Science Fiction, don’t worry, most of the stories revolve around characters solving Logical and Philosophical problems than figuring out some way to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.  It’s top quality Sci-Fi.  Go grab it.
"[You could not have made me]. I mean, look at you!  Periodically
 you pass into a coma and the least variation in temperature, air pressure,
 humidity or radiation intensity impairs your efficiency.  You are makeshift."

1 comment:

  1. Great review! Also, your picture caption from Cabin in the Woods kind of made my day.